Update on the Crazy Sheep DNA Project
Well, it looks like we are going to go ahead and take a real stab at the crazy sheep DNA project. I just learned today that the Art History department at Wheaton just purchased a 15th-century Book of Hours, so with my friend in biology, Prof. Shawn McCafferty, I am going to try to figure out non-destructive ways to try to extract some sheep DNA. We'll try, for example, running a sterile probe along the edges of a manuscript leaf, running pcr and seeing if we've got any DNA. Then, depending on how much and how good it is, we'll try with smaller and smaller (or larger and larger) samples.
If that doesn't work I may buy a manuscript leaf on the open market and work in the other direction (i.e., clip a corner and see if that is enough, the continually shrink the sample until we get nothing).
Joachim Burger, et. al. "DNA Preservation: A Micro-satellite-DNA Study on Ancient Skeletal Remains," Electrophoresis 1999, 20, 1722-1728, notes that they were able to extract DNA from sample sizes of .3 grams of powdered tooth. That doesn't sound like much, but .3 grams of parchment would still be a visible, destructive removal that would prevent the project from going forward on any important manuscripts.
Also, it looks like someone at Cambridge may be trying the same thing: see this link. That would be bad news if our work were to be direct competition, since Cambridge has the Parker Library, and Wheaton doesn't. But I think our "Value Added" will be to design a database, set of conventions and visual representation of the data so that all data anyone can recover from any manuscripts can be easily compared. After all, just doing every leaf of the Nowell Codex (Beowulf manuscript) would take an enormous amount of work and funding and would generate reams of data. Hopefully, if this works and the methods can be refined, different groups all over the world will gather the DNA evidence, put it into some central database, and see what relationships can be extracted from the data.
And now, back to grammar book revisions, which have reached the formatting stage, in which my hatred of Microsoft Word knows no bounds. Oh, Word, how do I loathe thee. I loathe thee to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach. I loathe your weird crashes, your incomprehensible formatting, your amazingly annoying pop-up icons (which are not and never were cute) that give me no useful information. Ah, Word, my soul writhes with disgust knowing that I have to click on a stupid button for every single section of a 22-section document if I want the first page of that section to have a blank header. Yes, Word, your inexplicable formatting screw-ups when I delete what is, in your logic-free design, the wrong blank line, your stupid inability to represent some characters, and your tedious, slow scrolling, they gnaw at me, Word. I consign thee to the depths of hell, and from the depths of hell I stab at thee...